Preventing Kitchen Fires in Your Home

Left untreated, a kitchen fire can spread through your entire home in just 5 minutes. Fortunately, it’s easy to prevent fires from happening in the kitchen if you practice a few simple safety tips. Protect your family and home by learning the basics of kitchen fire safety below.

Kitchen Fire Facts

The Most Common Fire-Starters

The National Fire Protection Association says there are six main factors that cause home cooking fires and cooking fire deaths:

1. Unattended equipment

Never leave kitchen appliances or other equipment unattended, even for a minute. You may think you have time for a quick bathroom break or mailbox run, but your kitchen can quickly go up in flames while you’re gone. In fact, leaving kitchen equipment unattended is the number one cause of cooking-related fires.

Electric ranges are a bigger fire hazard than gas ranges, but you should still stay close by when you use either one. Keep an eye on whatever you’re cooking in a pot or skillet, and don’t take a nap while the oven is running. You should also stay in the room when you use a deep fryer, air fryer or microwave.

2. Abandoned or discarded materials

Abandoned and discarded materials are the second most common cause of kitchen fires. Sometimes these forgotten materials are ignited when unattended equipment malfunctions or gets too hot. This can happen even when you are in the room.

Before using your stove or other appliances, make sure the area is clean. There should be no wrappers, paper towels or other items near your equipment. You should also keep potholders, clothing and cups away from your equipment while it’s in use.

Oil and grease can also lead to a kitchen fire. You may think it’s safe to walk away from an oil-filled skillet or deep fryer after you finish cooking, but the hot grease can go up in flames. This is true even if you have already turned off your range or unplugged your deep fryer.

Grease from a deep fryer or skillet should be emptied into a lidded container once it cools down a bit. Never dump it down your drain, and hold off on emptying grease in the trash if it’s still hot. Hot grease can burn through plastic garbage bags and even destroy the can itself.

3. A heat source that’s too close to combustibles

Nearly any item can catch fire if it comes in contact with a flame, but some kitchen items are especially flammable. Keep paper products, such as paper towels and napkins, in a cabinet away from your kitchen equipment. You should also be mindful of where you place items made from cloth or similar fabrics, such as hoodies, towels, washcloths and oven mitts.

Watch out for home decor that’s wrapped in fabric or covered with bows, such as a linen-wrapped mason jar. These items can easily catch on fire if you have them near kitchen equipment. Wooden spoons, curtains, and stacks of mail are other common fire hazards found in kitchens.

4. Unclassified misuse of materials

An unclassified misuse of materials happens when a home cook uses kitchen equipment or utensils the wrong way. This may be intentional or accidental.

Let’s run through some common scenarios where this may happen. While cooking, a family member may notice that the oil in a skillet bubbles if you accidentally drip water in the grease. This same family member may flick water into the skillet until it bubbles and steams, causing a kitchen emergency.

Another example of material misuse occurs when you place something that isn’t heat-safe in your oven. This may be a decorative platter or an appliance with electrical components, such as an unplugged crockpot. A fire can also occur if you accidentally leave flammable items in your oven, such as plastic cups or a mixing bowl. If you forget the items are inside and turn on your oven, you may experience a kitchen fire.

Also, be mindful of what you place in your microwave. Make sure your food is in a heat-safe container, and avoid microwaving large pieces of aluminum foil. If you’re unsure whether an item is microwave safe, check the bottom to see if it has instructions or guidelines. Cookware and glasses are often labeled as microwave safe when they can withstand high heat.

5. Cleanliness issues

Cleaning your oven doesn’t just have aesthetic value. Old food, pieces of foil, or shards of broken cookware can go up in flames at the turn of a dial. The same is true for other kitchen appliances, such as microwaves, deep fryers, toaster ovens, and air fryers. Yesterday’s scraps of food can turn into today’s kitchen fire, so remove food residue from appliances after each use.

Clean your appliances regularly, and make sure you use cleaning supplies that are safe for kitchen use. Many cleaning supplies are flammable, so choosing the wrong one for your skillet or range can result in an unpleasant surprise.
It’s also important to keep the area around your kitchen equipment clean. Avoid placing stacks of paperwork near your range or crockpot, and don’t hang long curtains near your stove. You should also be careful not to block electrical outlets.

6. Unintentionally leaving kitchen essentials off or on

Turning off kitchen equipment may save you money on your electric bill, but it can also save your life. Make sure you unplug appliances after use, including:

  • Toasters
  • Slow cookers
  • Blenders
  • Juicers
  • Coffee makers
  • Espresso machines
  • Mixers
  • Deep fryers
  • Air fryers
  • Griddles

It’s okay to leave some appliances plugged into an outlet, such as ovens or microwaves. However, keep an eye on your outlets. Make sure they are free from grease or other debris, and don’t block them with decor or bakeware.

Also, make sure important kitchen equipment like your smoke detector never gets unplugged. A working smoke detector often provides the first indicator that something is amiss in the kitchen.

Emergency Preparation

It’s vital that you know how to react if a kitchen fire occurs. Stay calm, and don’t try to fight the fire yourself if it gets too big.

How to be prepared for an emergency

Smoke detectors are your first defense when it comes to keeping a kitchen fire from spreading. Make sure your kitchen is equipped with a working smoke detector, and place smoke detectors throughout your home as well.

Check your batteries at least once a month, and swap them out on an annual basis. Experts recommend replacing your entire smoke detector unit every 10 years, sooner if needed.

Fire extinguishers also play an essential role in kitchen safety. Keep your fire extinguisher in an easy-to-reach spot, such as hanging on your wall or a cabinet door. Don’t limit your extinguisher to the kitchen; make sure you place at least one on every level of your home.

Fire extinguishers have a long life, so you can typically get by with keeping the same ones for 10 to 12 years. However, it’s good to recharge your extinguisher every 5 or 6 years just to make sure it still works properly during an emergency.

What to do in an emergency

First, don’t panic. It’s easy to control most kitchen fires if you act quickly. Your emergency plan should be flexible depending on the type of kitchen emergency you’re facing. Grease fires and oven fires are two common issues you may experience at home.

How to handle a grease fire

Avoid throwing water on the grease — this can make things worse! Instead, put a lid or baking pan on your skillet to smother a small fire. Make sure the lid is not made from glass, as glass can shatter during a fire.

After you place a lid on your skillet or vat, it’s time to turn off the power. Turn the dial to the off setting if the fire is on your range, or unplug the deep fryer or other appliance if it was on fire. You may also need to use your fire extinguisher to put out the flames, but call 911 and leave the home if they are quickly spreading and growing bigger.

How to handle an oven fire

Food scraps and other debris can trigger an oven fire. Oxygen helps fire spread, so close your oven door immediately if you see flames. Turn off the oven and have your fire extinguisher ready. Do not dump water in the oven.

Have an evacuation plan

Make sure you know how to safely evacuate away from a fire in case the flames are beyond your control. Your safety plan should include children and pets.

Arrange a meeting spot, such as a neighbor’s home or the stop sign, and decide who will be responsible for getting family members and pets out of the home. For example, you may agree you’ll grab the baby, while your husband will work on getting the cat and dog out of your home.

During a fire, family members may panic. Make sure you review multiple exit options, including doors and windows, in advance. You may even want to schedule a practice evacuation with kids and pets.

Hiring damage restoration companies

After a major fire, you may need help cleaning up your home. Your personal possessions may appear fine, but smoke can make them unsafe. A fire damage restoration company can help remove smoke and other debris that a fire leaves behind.
You may also need a water damage restoration company if your fire was significant. This company can remove standing water or other moisture so your home is livable once again. If you fail to get all the water, you can become sick from mold or other bacteria.

Stay Safe in the Kitchen

You can prevent many kitchen fires by following these simple tips. If one occurs, put out the fire yourself if it’s small. If not, call for help and evacuate your home immediately.